A little over a month ago, I preached a sermon talking about the difficulty of being in community together and how being in community together can also be messy. In that sermon I asked for forgiveness for the inevitable ways that we, as a faith community, would let you down and disappoint you. This blog is not an apology, but rather a reminder of what it means to be committed to being in relationship and community with each other.
“We will let you down” is an idea adapted from an excellent Lutheran pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber in her book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. In her book, Pastor Nadia writes,
[A]t our quarterly “Welcome to House For All Sinners and Saints” events, we ask the question, What drew you to HFASS? They love the singing, people often say, and the community, and the lack of praise bands, and the fact that they feel like they can comfortably be themselves. They love that we laugh a lot and have drag queens and that it’s a place where difficult truths can be spoken and everyone is welcome, and where we pray for each other.
I am always the last to speak at these events. I tell them that I love hearing all of that and that I, too, love being in a spiritual community where I don’t have to add to or take away from my own story to be accepted. But I have learned something by belonging to two polar-opposite communities—Albion Babylon and the Church of Christ—and I wanted them to hear me: This community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss.
The reality of being in community together, like I said on Sunday, is that we bring our full selves to this relationship. We don’t ask anyone to leave who they are at they door. We invite, we hope, and we expect that you bring your complete self to this relationship because by being honest and genuine with one another, we can begin and continue to build trust.
Trust is the foundation of any healthy and fruitful relationship, and it’s what allows us to disagree about certain things but to disagree well and struggle well together. Trust is what allows us to work out in our community that which God is calling us to. And it is from that foundation of trust that we can further build up our community, begin to move forward together, and do the work of the Gospel that God calls us to: transforming our selves and our world into God’s reign of peace and justice that God envisions for God’s world.
Sometimes when we bring our fullest selves to a relationship we find that we don’t always think alike, or that we don’t all view the world the same way. But I really believe that those differences in perspective don’t preclude or prevent us from finding where we do share common ground and working together from those places.
My hope and my prayer is that if you’ve recently found yourself surprised or disappointed or let down by this community, that you will also be committed to trusting that God is at work in the midst of that disappointment and that God is actively filling in the spaces left by our community with God’s love and mercy and grace.
Transformation and healing are beautiful and miraculous things if we allow ourselves to be open to seeing and receiving them.
I hope that we all leave room in our lives for God to do God’s work of transforming.
This upcoming Sunday is Reign of Christ Sunday. We’ll hear stories of how the power and authority of God sits above and apart from our conceptions about what power and authority looks like. The second reading, from Colossians, reminds us that Christ is the head of the body, which is Christ’s church. And like I said on Sunday, the body of Christ is a celebration of diversity within the unity of the body. By reminding ourselves that Christ is the head of this body, we can trust that we can have diverse thoughts and perspectives and still work to love and care for the world and the people and the creation that God so loves.
Finally church, I invite your thoughts and reflections. The building of relationship doesn’t happen without dialogue and interaction, and so I sincerely invite you into that space of dialogue. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s set a time to meet together and have conversation. I’m serious about this. I can’t know you and you can’t know me fully apart from dialogue and interaction. I’m eager for your thoughts, your conversation, and your reflection.
Peace be yours,